Can Nature Heal People?

It’s a question the Green Road Project hopes to answer with the help of wounded warriors at Walter Reed.

The TKF Foundation awarded the Institute of Integrative Health a $1 million grant to create the Green Road Project on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda. Researchers will use the greenspace to study nature's potential healing effects on wounded warriors. Rendering by Sarah Ashmun.

Can nature produce healing effects? That’s a question the Green Road Project hopes to answer with its proposed outdoor space for wounded warriors on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Today the Institute for Integrative Health (TIHH) was awarded a $1 million grant by the TKF Foundation for its proposal to promote healing among veterans by creating a two-acre green space adjacent to the Walter Reed campus. The hope is that once the space is created, researchers will be able to study veterans’ physiological, biological, and psychological responses to being on the Green Road.

“We expect to measure and prove for the first time nature’s exposure on the whole body,” says Fred Foote, a retired Navy captain who spearheaded the Green Road Project.

The Green Road Project will include a half-mile wheelchair path in the center of the Naval Support Activity’s campus that will allow veterans to travel from building to building. Currently, veterans have to navigate through streets and traffic to travel the campus. “We want to build a green road to give wheelchair patients a low-stress, beautiful way to move across campus,” says Foote.

The path will run along a stream, and veterans, family, and friends will have access to seating areas. Also planned is a commemorative pavilion where fallen comrades will be honored.

The research begins once the green space is completed in the spring of 2014. A number of universities and organizations have signed on to help facilitate the research, including the National Institutes of Health. Researchers will measure veterans’ stress biomarkers, analyze their journals and stories, and examine changes in gene expression.

The Green Project is in line with Walter Reed’s efforts to provide more holistic programs for recovering veterans, especially those who suffer from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder and often don’t see results from conventional medicine. “Everyone says, ‘Why would the military want this? They’re hard and gutsy,’” says Foote. “But we knew we wanted to do a big garden project to finish making Walter Reed a national example of holistic medicine.”